I’ve never broken a bone.
I remember talking to my mom about doing so, when I was a kid. She told me it was a very painful experience. One that would certainly make me cry.
I can’t say for sure, although these days I’ve gotten pretty good at managing physical sensations.
Crying in pain, though? That still happens.
Not physical pain; emotional. Specifically, grief.
I was washing some dishes and thinking about Martina, who I’ve mentioned here before, in Meeting Martina, and again in The Lost Decade. I’ll talk about our last year together, before we parted ways, next week.
I wish I could link her to these. I’m sure she’d love to see me writing, and posting it publically. She’d really love to hear about what I’m up to. How I found purpose, and what I’m doing with it.
But I can’t.
Spoiler alert for a few autobio pasts ahead: She died. Last November.
I didn’t hear about it until December, long enough that by the time I did, her funeral was over, and whatever happened to her cat, Richard, was out of my control, and impossible to find out. She asked me to take care of that cat so many times, if something happened to her, and every time, I assured her that I would.
I don’t know what happened to him. If someone took him in, nobody knew about it on facebook. I keep thinking about that. She was intense about promises made to the dead, and I failed in that duty.
That’s not the part that hurts the most, though. I’ve largely learned to deal with guilt.
No, it’s just the awareness; my friend is gone. I spent more hours in her presence than any person I’m not related to, or was dating. I went with her to ADAPT marches, I kept her alive during a several day power outage by having planned ahead and having a thermal emergency blanket, she kept me from being homeless multiple times. We talked of things shallow, and intensely personal, and for the latter half of our association, she swore up and down that I was psychic, because enough time spent talking to her let me predict the shape of a thing that she’d never said, and wouldn’t have, except that I could see it.
There’s a hole, in my map of the world. When I look at it, I start crying. I remember telling her that I was planning to transition (“You don’t tell people things like that when they’re eating!”). I remember waiting in a pharmacy with her to get an emergency supply of her allergy meds, as her throat slowly closed, and seriously considering jumping the counter and assaulting the pharmacist because he was taking too long. I can remember several nights of various horrible health issues, going to hospitals, and the time the ambulance left without me.
People tell me grief fades, with time. I don’t know if I’m unusual, in that I still hurt this deeply. I want to be clear, though. While I’ve spent the last ~2 hours crying about her, it’s not just her. If I look at the hole where my grandfather was, there’s grief there, too. He’s been gone ten years, but if I don’t dissociate, the pain’s still there, just waiting to catch my eye. Hey there, remember Bob? He’s still gone! (He told me to call him Bob instead of Grandpa, in case any pretty girls heard. His nickname was Happy Bob; always with a smile and a joke, he was.)
I can look another direction, and there’s a hole where my father used to be. We weren’t even that close; my parents had separated when he died, and when they were together, we didn’t get along; I suspect he’d picked up some subtle tell of my being trans, and it bothered him, and so he tried to make a man of me. Still, I can contemplate losing him, and start crying as hard as I did as his funeral. (Suicide. Fun fact: I learned about this in a meeting with therapists, caseworkers, program staff, and my mom. They’d distributed an information packet to everyone, you see, and I had the lightning reading speed trait then. Reading was way more interesting than a meeting, right up until, “[Deadname]’s father committed suicide a few years ago. [Deadname] is not currently aware of this.” I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this to Mom, so if she reads this post, that’ll be an interesting bit. Certainly I don’t blame her for this; wasn’t her printout.)
So maybe I’m different from other people, when it comes to grief, but I don’t think I really am. Neuromachinery is pretty solidly conserved across the species, to the best of my knowledge. I think what happens to most is that they feel the pain, and it hurts (so goddamn bad) and little by little, they build up a reflex to dissociate from it, automatically. Day by day, it gets a little stronger, a little more automatic, until one day they look at the hole, and can’t really feel the pain at all. This hypothesis explains my observations, and why I differ in this area – I’ve spent the last year learning not to dissociate. At one point last year I could barely feel anything. Didn’t recognize when I felt anger, (I remember being angry on Martina’s behalf, at a Greyhound ticket agent who charged both of us four times for our tickets) didn’t really feel happy anymore, and love was fading away, which was when I realized I had a problem – my feelings for my partners were moving out of my reach.
With help from various friends, to whom I am deeply grateful, I recovered. I learned to feel my feelings, and the mental move that stops dissociation from happening. I treasure my feelings now, delightful and painful alike, and I don’t want dissociation to come back in and steal them away.
But fuck, grief hurts.